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Category: Books (page 2 of 4)

The Dark Circle

The Dark Circle Book Cover The Dark Circle
Linda Grant

A novel that beautifully captures the voices of a range of people from different classes, many Londoners,  who find themselves consigned to a countryside sanatorium for tuberculosis sufferers.  The now forgotten cruelties of TB and its treatment come alive in this book set in post-War Britain. It is also a shrewdly observed fictional slice of social history, firmly based in a very real past that shows us how our lives have (been) developed to the present day.  The story is shot through with humour and unsentimental reticence which makes it all the more engaging. The limitations of its settings are actually its strength as the writing draws the reader into the lives of the patients and the medical staff.  Linda Grant delivers the best combination of a storyteller revealing the human heart through a vivid tapestry of social, political and medical histories.

Waterstones Promotion

Waterstones – buy here!

I am way behind on my book reviewing here, but I can recommend Sarah Millican’s How To Be Champion in this promotion which I am reading on and off, as it is a dip-into book.  I find her a very, very funny stand up comedian, and this book opens out her stand-up character (which very much seems to be”her”) onto wider and more serious issues in her life, and life in a broader context.  It’s making me laugh a lot, and it’s making me think which is an appealing mixture.

Actually you can’t do better than the audio version of her reading it herself:

How To Be Champion – audio


Balancing Acts

Balancing Acts Book Cover Balancing Acts
Nicholas Hytner
Jonathan Cape

This book is partly a book about business.   It may be the business of  theatre but it's business nevertheless.  It tells of Hytner's 12 years running the National Theatre.  The reason his time was so successful there was because of his harmonious and necessary relationship with his business partner Nick Starr.  Although broadly the former was Mr Arts and the latter Mr Money, they understood each other implicitly.  It is a fascinating balancing act and really makes you understand how incredibly difficult it is to make theatre a successful business without losing its integrity.  But business is business in whatever field and because theatre is my interest, this book gave me a business insight I previously would have expressed no interest in.

Also if you have no interest in theatre as an art form, Hytner is such an engaging writer that I think the book is worth a go. He really knows his stuff.  He is very insightful on his own directing and productions and there's a lot to learn from him - you don't need to know much about the subject to enjoy his writings

What it isn't is a gossipy showbiz book, or an insight into Hytner as a person.  But it's an easy read: he is funny, charming and modest (not self-effacing).  He owns up to mistakes and explains how he learnt from them.  If theatre is a mirror of life, then there is much to learn from this book.


Goodbye Christopher Robin

Rachel Kneebone at the Foundling

Graeme Simsion

In The Name Of The Family

In The Name Of The Family Book Cover In The Name Of The Family
Sarah Dunant

The second of Sarah Dunant's novels about the Borgias, and her fifth set in Renaissance Italy.   She is a superb writer.  She has a rare talent as a novelist/historian. Her books are rooted as much in historical fact as she is able, and her dazzling imagination brings the daily lives of these extraordinary people alive - you know what they taste, what they smell of, what they wear, how they clean themselves, what illnesses they suffer and what diseases they carry.  She marries this imaginative intimacy with the epic narrative of Italian and Western European history of the period.  It is gorgeous, intoxicating, gripping and ultimately very moving.  I was surprised to find how emotional I was at the end of reading it.  Her characters - these real historical rulers - had lived with me in my head.  Her research has been vast and must have been enormously hard work, but she never writes to show off her knowledge: a rare and valuable accomplishment.

(If you haven't read her previous books, then best start with her previous Borgias novel, Blood and Beauty - better still with her trilogy of novels centring on ordinary women in Renaissance Italy. )



A couple of readers have asked what has happened to my book reviews.  The truth is I have been a bit lacksadaisical with my reading.  Sometimes I’m just not in the mood.  I did get very caught up in the podcast S-Town.  I was going to write about it but

Read more


Cousins Book Cover Cousins
Salley Vickers

I've long meant to read Miss Garnett's Angel (and have failed to do so), so it was a pleasant surprise to receive Cousins as a present.  I am a sucker for novels about families and this one exceeded my expectations.  Told in three female voices from three generations, the story revolves around two men.  The title is deceptively simple, the plot complex as it plays with the gaps and silences between people and generations. Each voice reveals more of the family's stories and secrets, none of which feels contrived. It is an epic, gripping story involving war and (for me some little-known British) politics which shape the domestic and the intimate. Religion and mysticism also shade the book's whole.  It is based on Salley Vickers' own family.  Part of her background as a trained psychotherapist provides her already substantial writing talent with a disarming insight into the characters who, for me, really lived within the pages.

The Loney

The Loney Book Cover The Loney
Andrew Michael Hurley
John Murray
April 2016

This book is so difficult to write about that I am handing it over to other people.  Both Julie Myerson and Sarah Perry say in their Guardian reviews everything I want to.

Sarah Perry review

Julie Myerson review


On the back of my two reviews below, for Waterstones January Sale – click here:

2017 sale, Half price off hundreds of bestselling books


Books – On The Loose (Bryant & May 7)

On The Loose Book Cover On The Loose
Bryant & May Book 7
Christopher Fowler
June 2010

I'm way behind on the Bryant & May series, and accidentally missed out this book and the next in my reading sequence.  No matter.  Christopher Fowler says the books can be read in any order (apart from this one and the next).  He describes his protagonists as "Golden Age Detectives in a modern world".  Personally I think his creations are pretty unique, the nearest for me being Fred Vargas' Adamsberg.  The plot is as madcap as ever, and as usual its contrived chaos drives me to despair half-way through before pieces start dropping in place and logic conquers.  That's the joy of them.  This one delves into the history of Kings Cross and is really fascinating on that level alone.  Fowler remains childlike in his fascination with the history, folklore and myths of London - indeed his mind is not too dissimilar from Ali Smith's in its boundless creativity.  And as with Smith, Fowler's passions - his love of London and concerns for its future - lie just below the surface.